COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
21 AUGUST 2008
ON RESCUING CHILDREN FROM CADIZ CITY HUNGER STRIKE:
“HOW SOON IS SOON? RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT”---CHR CHIEF
Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Leila M. De Lima is alarmed over the reported cases of children who are on hunger strike with their mothers at a picket line in Cadiz City, especially the death of a 3-year old boy due to hunger strike. The picket started in July 5, 2008 as a result of the detention of the thirteen (13) men charged with illegal logging. The thirteen (13) men were caught by 'Task Force Ilahas' (“Ilahas” is wild chickens in the native language) on the `tip' of an unidentified informant. The wives of these men are demanding for the release of their husbands.
Concerned on the deteriorating condition of the children, the CHR Head directed its Region VI Office in Iloilo City and the Bacolod Sub-Office to immediately proceed to Cadiz City to monitor and document the human rights condition of the children as well as the parents on hunger strike in the picket line.
According to the Investigating/Monitoring Team, there were more or less ten (10) children with ages ranging from 3-months-old babies to 7-year-old kids on hunger strike together with their parents in Cadiz City. These individuals were camped outside, vulnerable to hunger, dust, scorching heat of the sun during the day, and cold during the night. Such condition resulted in the death of a 3-year-old boy, and the confinement of his younger brother in St. Anne Hospital. Medical records showed that the said child died due to diarrhea and high fever.
“While we empathize with the condition of the mothers who are there to give moral support to their husbands locked up in Cadiz City Police Station pending resolution of their case, we at the Commission on Human Rights would not allow ourselves to just see the children's health deteriorate, which may lead to another death. The children must be rescued at once by all means,” the CHR Chairperson said.
The Chairperson lamented the fact that children are being exploited in such situation. The CHR Head added that under Republic Act No. 7610 or “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation and Discrimination”, the parents of these children can be held criminally liable for exposing their children to dangers and risks with such kind of environment. “Although naiintindihan natin ang sitwasyon ng mga nanay nila, bakit kailangan nilang isama ang mga bata?”, she asked.
In this connection, Chairperson De Lima directed the CHR Team to rescue the children who are on hunger strike. She likewise directed the Team to closely coordinate with the local government units (LGUs), the Department of Social and Welfare Development (DSWD) and even the local health authorities to immediately address the alarming incident.
Chairperson De Lima stressed that the CHR, functioning as “Ombudsman for Children”, has the obligation and the responsibility to call the attention of the concerned government agencies to act at once to address the issue, lest we'll all be sorry later on. Under its wings, the CHR has a Child Rights Center which must ensure protection of the rights of children. “In all angles, we see violation of the human rights of the children, and it's a pitiful sight indeed,” the CHR Chief lamented.
Chairperson de Lima said that local government of Cadiz City, the DSWD, and other government agencies must convince the parents not to let their children participate in this kind of exercise. In the first place, parents, as elders, have the choice, while these innocent children have none. Joining the wives of the 13 suspected illegal loggers are members of progressive groups Bayan and Karapatan. The CHR Chairperson is also urging the leaders of these groups to make the parents realize the consequences of their actions on their children. “Baka pwedeng pagsabihan nila na iwanan nila ang mga bata sa kanilang bahay habang may inaasikaso sila, o kung walang mapag-iwanan, mag-relyebo muna sila. I'm sure whatever their grievances have, they already made their point, and their messages delivered loud and clear.”
Chairperson De Lima stressed that if the parents would still insist that their children go on hunger strike, putting the health of the little ones at risks, this should serve more than a basis for the local authorities to forcibly take the children out of the dangerous picket line and put them temporarily under the care of the DSWD.
The CHR Team noted that there was quite a delay in the disposition of the cases of the detained men because of the non-submission of counter-affidavits by the respondents, although they were extended legal assistance by the Public Attorney's Office (PAO). The CHR Team was assured that within this week, or by next week, the Resolution of the Prosecutor's Office will be handed down.
Despite the assistance extended by the local government of Cadiz City and the DSWD to the strikers through the provision of food, rice, and other aids, the CHR's primordial concern is the safety of the children, “and this, we must address at once,” Chairperson De Lima pointed out.
When asked when is the right time to rescue the children, the CHR Chairperson said without batting an eyelash, “How soon is soon? Right this very moment.” xxx